NFU Scotland has called for next year’s LFA payments in Scotland to be be advanced to this autumn to help out hard-pressed hill farmers.

More than £61m in support is due to be paid out in January but the union wants the payments made now in view of the escalating financial crisis in Scotland’s more remote areas and increasing evidence of declining cattle and sheep numbers.

“Farmers need these lifeline payments as soon as possible to alleviate the immediate financial pressure on many Scottish farmers,” said president, Jim McLaren, following an emergency meeting of the union’s LFA committee.

“The level of concern expressed by farmers from every region of Scotland is frightening. There is a real short-term cash flow problem. Everyone reported of neighbours selling off stock and effectively kissing goodbye to a future in the industry.”

LFA committee chairman, Sandy Tulloch, added: “There is a huge problem right now. We need a statement from the Scottish Government that recognises the current state of the industry in the hills and must include getting LFA payments out much earlier.”

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead, said he shared the industry’s concerns and the difficulty hill farmers were experiencing in securing a commercially viable return.

The Scottish Government has paid out £300m to LFA farmers since last December in LFA and Single Farm Payment.

Mr Lochhead made no commitment to pay out earlier, but was due to meet Mr McLaren today (28 August) to discuss the matter.

The union is due to issue a policy document, “Manifesto for the HIlls” at a press conference on an Inverness-shire hill farm on Monday (1 September).

“We have been working hard on policy proposals to secure the future of production in the hills for all the economic, social and environmental benefits it delivers,” said Mr McLaren.